Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Single Life

I don't know why I haven't addressed the seemingly obvious topic of marriage until now. By the "topic of marriage," I don't mean whether I'm in favor or opposed to the institution. I vote, "Aye." But I never just discussed its relevance to me, today. I'm 25 and single. In some worlds that's ancient, in others still childish. But in the world in my head, I'm right on track. And, yes, I'll tell you why.

I am not interested in marriage. At least not right now. I have nothing against it, far from it. But it is not a goal of mine. Mainly because I'm not sure how it could be a goal. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have a special someone in my life. But there is a big difference between "being married" and "finding your soulmate." Anyone can get married, but no amount of effort can guarantee you find the person who complements you.

It's not that I don't want to be married. If I meet the right person today, I have no problem settling down tomorrow. But in focusing my efforts, I'd rather build a career. That is within my power. I can work towards that goal. But marriage is different. If you get consumed by a marriage search, or define yourself in terms of your marital status, you cheat yourself of accomplishment. It'll be great if you get married. It will build your potential. But shutting out your own growth to lock in a spouse is like spending your life searching for the fountain of youth - the prize may be golden, but you can waste your strength going in circles when instead you could be making small strides.

As I was thinking of this issue, I thought of a scenario that left me uncertain. I know a friend who went to a Rabbi, and was blessed to get married within a year. And voila, he is engaged (B"H). If my friend took me to this same Rabbi, and the Rabbi turned to me and asked, "What shall I bless you with, finding your bashert or success in your professional life?" I don't know which I would choose.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Technical Stuff

FYI - I'll be in New York this weekend, so don't expect to see me online (in accordance with my travel blogging policy - I don't fly out to visit real people only to spend my time in front of a computer). If anyone will be in Manhattan, shoot me an email.

Also - and this is exciting stuff - I'm working on my first template changes in a year. Nothing seriously different, really. But I am plannig on adding a blog roll. I know, so 2004. I was afraid of the "who got left out" reaction, but I figured, I'm getting too old to remember which blogs I read, so I need a portal. Let me know if I leave any out!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Old Friends: An Update (By Special Request)

As I was preparing to finish the story that began in my previous post, I realized that before I could end with an epilogue, I should really start with a prologue.

It would be an understatement to be saying "old friends" were coming to town. That might be an expression you'd use if some guys that you were once in a few classes with happened to be on a vacation in your area. Most likely you'll run into them unexpected at some local eatery, slap each other on the back, laugh over the "Good 'ol days", and then go your separate ways. The first thing you'll do is try and remember that guys name.

But in my case, these weren't just guys that I had some past experiences in common with. These guys were my past. When I moved to Chicago when I was 6, we all went to school together. There was a group of seven guys, and we did everything together. A lot of it probably was practical. Our parents probably appreciated having a consistent circle for carpools and after school babysitting. But when the same group of seven guys have all of their birthday parties together, go to the same camp, play on the same Little League teams, and go to school through 8th grade together, there's bound to be not just a few memories, but some formative experiences. I had a joint Bar Mitzvah with two of the guys in Israel. I spent two different summers with the families of two of these guys in Israel. These guys were part of the moments that have shaped who I am today, even if can't pinpoint them.

But things change. One of the guys made Aliyah to Israel with his family in 5th grade. I wrote him a letter everyday, which gradually become a less frequent endeavor. One of the guy's parents got divorced, and he moved in with his dad and transferred to another school. Another boy moved to California, where summer visits would be our annual reunion. Then came High School. I went to a different school than everybody else, and our lives slowly diverged. There would be the official get togethers that became more and more infrequent. Eventually, the random neighborhood run-in became our most common catch-up time.

By the time college came, we had very little in common. At least one of us seemed to be in with the "wrong" crowd, and we had all developed extra-curricular interests that varied considerably more than our Little League days. We were in different cities, and never saw each other, period. Of the entire group, I ran into one of them once at a wedding in Israel, but other than that, we had completely lost touch since high school.

When one of the guys died suddenly in college, I was reminded of how much of my earlier years had vanished. I was in another city at the time, and rather than reconnect me with my past, I felt the isolation even more. I wrote a letter to his parents, telling them how important a friend he had been, even though I hadn't seen him in years.

And that takes us to this past Thanksgiving Day. Seeing these guys all over the internet made me proud. But it also made me nervous. Did I really have anything in common with these guys any more? Guys aren't so sentimental. Would they appreciate all that had been, all that we had missed?

I didn't tell anyone in my family about the game or about my plans to go. I had enough built up expectations that I didn't want to let anyone else down. The game was at noon, but I was dreading going. Would I have anything to say to them? Would they recognize me? We had all changed considerably over the years.

I fell asleep at 10:30 AM, and I'll admit, I was hoping that if I just slept through the game, I could chalk it up as out of my control, and let the whole thing just have been some interesting tidbit in the news. I woke up, and looked at the clock relieved when I saw the clock read 1:30. I relaxed a bit, thinking I could hide from my past by inaction. But I passed into another room, and saw that it was only 12:30 (I keep my travel clock on New York time). Realizing that the inevitable had been ordained, I got dressed and finally told my parents my plans as I was leaving.

I drove down to the field, but didn't see any game. There were many cars, and a few people, but, most noticeably, an empty field. I could've asked one of the people I passed where the game was, but I felt embarrassed to be seen, to ask not for a football game but for a reunion, as if I was a fugitive trying to escape from my past. I circled twice, doing my duty, and left the park, too ready to evade the encounter. After all, wouldn't it be easier to just let my friends stay as they were in my photographs than have to come up with something to say to them?

I left the parking lot, but decided that I should try another park, so that I wouldn't go home without at least having a decent attempt to report. The other park was absolutely empty, so I knew that the game wasn't there. It was 1:30 by this time, and the game would be nearing its conclusion. But strengthened with the added comfort that the game might be over before I could show up, I decided to try the original location one last time. Did I really want to be known as the guy who avoided his old crowd?

As I pulled up, I noticed another field tucked nearly underneath a highway overpass, with a few dozen freezing cold stick figures running around. I hesitantly parked, with the realization that there was no avoiding it anymore. I would face my old friends. What scared me, I realized, was not that I was running from my past. I was paralyzed by uncertainty about the present. It was a given that this moment would be awkward. How could it not? We hadn't seen each other in ten years, they didn't know to expect me, and they were in the middle of a sports contest! We probably had less in common today than when we had last seen each other, and the freezing cold field wasn't the ideal setting to rekindle past warmth.

But the most apprehensive aspect of the moment was the role of memory. In my mind, we were best friends, sharing everything. If now we were to greet as awkward strangers, the rosy looking-glass backwards would be shattered by reality. Did I want to ruin the frozen picture of my childish innocence by forcing it to confront the hard reality of the present?

As I walked onto the field, I tried to pretend that I was just there as a random Jew showing up for a queer cultural spectacle, removed from the characters themselves. I arrived at the sidelines, and was promptly greeted with a wave from the field by a face I couldn't recognize. Then, on the sidelines, some of the other spectators turned around, and I was caught finally in the reality that I was here. It was one of my friend's family, and fortunately I recognized them. I caught up quickly with them, but they were just leaving the game, so I didn't have to make conversation for too long.

The weather was brutally cold, and I was unprepared. Fortunately, the game was called early (the Jews won 21-0, for those keeping score). But now the inevitable post-game reunion had arrived. The player that had waved came straight over and gave me a hug. It was the friend that had moved to Israel in 5th grade, 15 years ago. Just behind him was one of the other guys who warmly greeted me. I followed them back towards the team, to see who else I might know. It turned out that there was one other of the original group there, as well as one other guy that I knew growing up.

But the romanticism ends there. There is no golden ending. It was every bit as awkward as I'd imagined. We caught up, with the usual, "So what are you doing now?" Just like you'd ask of the random out of town acquaintance you might run into at the deli. Because the reality was that we have as little in common today as you would expect. We caught up on our current status (one of the guys is married, and two of them were still undergrads- I wasn't the last!), but then it was just going our own ways. There was no, "Let's get together for one last hurrah." They finished cleaning up and I got into my car. They'll go back to the cities they came in from to visit for the holiday weekend, and I went back to my bedroom in my parent's house.

Maybe I shouldn't have gone. Maybe I should have let my childhood memories live on as myths. Or maybe I should have stayed in touch, or reached out to bring us back together after all these years. But maybe I did exactly the right thing. Real life is just that, real. You can't hide from it, and push it into dreamland. These were real friends, and even if I only reached out to them for a few minutes, it still shows that the friendship means something to me. I know that this annual game serves as a mini-reunion for those that take part in it. While I may not enjoy sports, I hope that I can open one afternoon a year to showing these guys that they remain every bit as important to me today as the guys that I am sharing my current experiences with. Throughout life, you'll make friends and lose them, but the ones you have today define you no more than the friends you had yesterday.

I'm sorry for making this so long. Obviously this episode came with a lot of emotion for me to deal with, and writing is my best form of expression. The lesson is never to hold on too tight, but never to let go completely. And that goes for reality as well as your dreams.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Indo/ Jew Bowl

A ran across a recent story in the Chicago Sun-Times about a group of young people in my community who throw a cultural event referred to as the Indo Jew Bowl. As could be inferred from the name, it consists of a Thanksgiving Day football game between, you guessed it, some Indian kids and some Jewish kids. Cute, I guess.

Then I read the story and the website. And I saw some of the names that were involved. And I realized that not only did I know them, but these had been the guys who made up my closest circle growing up. These were the guys on my Little League team, in my summer camp, and at my birthday parties. And I hadn't seen or heard from most of them in over ten years. It was kind of strange to see guys that had been so close in a major newspaper, where they seemed as close to me as ever, but yet I was no closer to them than any other reader of the paper.

As I peered into every corner of their website, trying to simultaneously find out what my friends were now up to as well as relive my childhood, I caught a part of me that felt as though it had died. But maybe it hasn't. The game is tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, 3 miles from my house.

And as a Thansgiving Day Football bonus, this article highlights a recent decision to open up a prayer area at Giants Stadium. A victory for Mincha Minyanim? Actually, just a favor for Muslims. But in the city of Jew Day at Shea, why hasn't this been done before? Don't the Jews have Minyanim already? I know at Wrigley Field they have a Mincha Minyan (although it is private, consisting of the Yeshiva and Ida Crown students vending concessions).

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Profaning Sex

There's an ongoing culture war over sex. Right, no news there. Polarizing pundits do such a great job burying the war over sex with other symbols, such as abortion, women's rights, and homosexual marriage. But for all the foolish people out there researching the pros and cons of each of these debates, stop wasting your time. You can never convince people of an acceptable abortion compromise. Simply put, it's because the battle isn't over abortion, regardless of what they say- it's over sex.

Sex not only defines us as a culture, but as individuals. In a very literal sense, it is the foundation of our physical and emotional selves. So, quite obviously, the stakes are high. But in attempting to keep the troops focused on the front lines, few have been willing to admit to what they are really fighting for...the continution of a moral society.

Sex is the most Gd-like act. As any parent can attest to, it is the sole time a human can understand what "creation" is. Only when parenting can a person look at something with the closest reaction possible to how Gd looked upon this world after the 7 days of creation.

And yet there are those who would like to make sex the most base act possible. Not only should it not be committed to an act of love, faith or trust, but it should be lowered to the fullfillment of animal desires. This most potentate of all acts becomes a waste of the seed that could have been planted, and ends as death, in the dehumanifying of a possible newborn. This is the "Sexual Revolution" that "birth control" has enabled.

I'm not saying that those advocating a loosening of the sexual reigns are devil worshipping heathens. Far from it, most are committed to improving the physcial lot of man. And this is the core of the battle- is man's future safeguarded by following his mind or his body? The mind is the most complex and creative function of man, but also his coldest. The body is the most transparent, shortsighted component, but is also the warmest. Should man think or should man feel?

Whatever arguments are used to couch the debate, the end of the issue is the future of our society. For whether in its most exalted encounter a civilization looks to achieve the level of Gd or to act like its animal relatives bespeaks the morality of that society. We can hope to mimic all of the sophistication that the rest of the Animal Kingdom has acheived, or we can do our utmost to utilize the divine wisdom that resides in the world order to create a better life for all humankind.

Drop the pretense and grab a weapon. I've chosen the pen.

Monday, November 14, 2005

My Space

I'm not a big online stalker. Honest. I may blog, but my Facebook account is rarely used, my AIM life quiet, and my use of the Internet for any social-life replacement non-existant.

But even I have been taken by surprise by this newest door on the Internet. Many of you may have read this news story, about two parents murdered by a 14 year-old's 18 year-old boyfriend, and their subsequent flight and capture by police. Most people would check their news sources, and consider the story over.

But I learned a new tactic. The news (and the newsmakers) often have another face. Just yesterday, they lived lives like you and I. And like us (or at least me) their regular life may be scattered across the internet. So today's celebrity may have been just another cliquee in school yesterday. And with a simple Googlesearch, that life can be entered by anyone looking to step beyond the mass media.

For example, today's parental murderers have regular accounts on the website MySpace, a website which allows users to share something about themselves with their friends, and anyone who happens to be curious about them. And if you become a murder suspect, many people become curious. The young girl's site offers a peak into a typical life that won't return for this girl. The young man's site has become a virtual bathroom wall, as it has become a focal spot for those that hadn't known his name yesterday to banter with him anonymously today. A curious twist on the Internet, indeed. Just be careful who your "friends" are.

Now let's just hope you're not visiting my blog because you've seen my name in the Police Blotter.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Spending Power

Anyone who might be interested in signing up for a new credit card, you should check out the HAS Advantage card. It has a decent rewards program, gives a portion of your purchases to charities in Israel, and all for no annual fee.

Bonus Update:
This short video clip makes the same point as I made here, albeit a lot funnier.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


This past Sunday, I crashed a wedding of a guy I know from Yeshiva who married a local girl. Why would I go to a wedding where I didn't have a seat assignment? I could've come because my friends were there. Or for the free food. Or because I was bored. I'm easilly influenced by those things, but the bottom line - I went because it's a mitzvah.

I don't enjoy weddings, per se. I don't have a good time, it's not my Kosher version of a wild party, a way to kill a weekend. It's a mitvah to entertain the bride and groom. It's not about hearing your favorite singer or showing off your dance moves. It's whatever the bride/groom want. If that's to keep the dancing going after the band stops, good. If it's to get them a seat and tell the band to quit, than that is just the same. I try to spend the entire wedding seeing what I can do to make the experience nicer- for them.

I'll fly to a wedding- not because it promises to have a great band and great food- but I see whether my presence will make a difference. If I think it will, there's no ticket too expensive.

I can understand why people get so into weddings, don't get me wrong. I just think they miss the point. Kohelles (Thanks, Rebbetzin) says "Tov Leches El Beis HaAvel M'Beis HaMishteh," "Better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting." What's better for a person is to learn the humbling lesson of mortality than to waste life trying to find personal happiness and fulfillment by absorbing the joy of others at parties. Put into context our role at Simchas, and it begins to take on a more understandable shape.

I just don't know what I would ever do at my own wedding.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Olam Chessed Y'Baneh

Putting others before yourself.

It seems like the classic requirement of one wishing to live up to the highest ethical ideals. Shouldn't we recognize that we aren't better than those around us? Shouldn't we teach ourselves patience by learning to wait for others? Shouldn't we create a better world by sharing love, and doing for others what we would have done unto ourselves?

Of course. But I don't think some people get it. For example, holding the elevator for somebody, nice, no? Save them from having to wait for the next one. But what if there are other people waiting in the elevator? Should ten have to wait for one? And what of the people waiting on other floors to board, isn't it shortsighted to assume that the person in front of you is the only person whose time you are affecting?

Too often, people trying to be generous only end up penalizing those they wish to help. Ever turn a corner and promptly run into somebody going the opposite direction, and the situation escalates into a "You first," "After you," "No, please" comic, like riding an escalator in the wrong direction? You aren't being gracious insisting you go second. The whole point of letting the other person go first is to show you value their time more than your own. By playing a trump game, you're only wasting it!

Almost every day on my way to or from work, I'll see some car slow to let another car merge into a lane. What the driver doesn't realize is that the seconds he's saved that driver has cost much more to all the drivers braking behind him. Instead of the merger simply entering traffic after it clears in a few seconds, he must wait to ensure that everyone is really stopping for him. And now the whole street has come to a stop. Is this really courtesy?

Like giving a dictionary to a homeless person, it's not the thought that counts. It's the difference you've made in the end.

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